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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Fan Fiction > Notices > Star Trek Fan-ning the Flames (NoticeID 7, http://chillingeffects.org/N/7) Printer-friendly version

Star Trek Fan-ning the Flames

July 29, 2001

 

Sender Information:
Viacom Inc.
Sent by: [Attorney]
[Firm]
1515 Broadway
New York, NY, 10036-579

Recipient Information:
Mr. David Henderson
[Private]
Peoria, Illinois, 61606


Sent via: Via Certified Mai
Re: Re: Infringements of STAR TREK Copyrights and Trademarks

I write as attorney for Paramount Pictures Corporation ("Paramount").

As you are, no doubt, aware, Paramount owns all of the rights to the television series entitled STAR TREK, STAR TREK:

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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Question: What rights are protected by copyright law?

Answer: The purpose of copyright law is to encourage creative work by granting a temporary monopoly in an author's original creations. This monopoly takes the form of six rights in areas where the author retains exclusive control. These rights are:

(1) the right of reproduction (i.e., copying),
(2) the right to create derivative works,
(3) the right to distribution,
(4) the right to performance,
(5) the right to display, and
(6) the digital transmission performance right.

The law of copyright protects the first two rights in both private and public contexts, whereas an author can only restrict the last four rights in the public sphere. Claims of infringement must show that the defendant exercised one of these rights. For example, if I create unauthorized videotape copies of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and distribute them to strangers on the street, then I have infringed both the copyright holder's rights of reproduction and distribution. If I merely re-enact The Wrath of Khan for my family in my home, then I have not infringed on the copyright. Names, ideas and facts are not protected by copyright.

Trademark law, in contrast, is designed to protect consumers from confusion as to the source of goods (as well as to protect the trademark owner's market). To this end, the law gives the owner of a registered trademark the right to use the mark in commerce without confusion. If someone introduces a trademark into the market that is likely to cause confusion, then the newer mark infringes on the older one. The laws of trademark infringement and dilution protect against this likelihood of confusion. Trademark protects names, images and short phrases.

Infringement protects against confusion about the origin of goods. The plaintiff in an infringement suit must show that defendant's use of the mark is likely to cause such a confusion. For instance, if I were an unscrupulous manufacturer, I might attempt to capitalize on the fame of Star Trek by creating a line of 'Spock Activewear.' If consumers could reasonably believe that my activewear was produced or endorsed by the owners of the Spock trademark, then I would be liable for infringement.

The law of trademark dilution protects against confusion concerning the character of a registered trademark. Suppose I created a semi-automatic assault rifle and marketed it as 'The Lt. Uhura 5000.' Even if consumers could not reasonably believe that the Star Trek trademark holders produced this firearm, the trademark holders could claim that my use of their mark harmed the family-oriented character of their mark. I would be liable for dilution.


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Question: What kinds of things are copyrightable?

Answer: In order for material to be copyrightable, it must be original and must be in a fixed medium.

Only material that originated with the author can support a copyright. Items from the public domain which appear in a work, as well as work borrowed from others, cannot be the subject of an infringement claim. Also, certain stock material might not be copyrightable, such as footage that indicates a location like the standard shots of San Francisco in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Also exempted are stock characters like the noisy punk rocker who gets the Vulcan death grip in Star Trek IV.

The requirement that works be in a fixed medium leaves out certain forms of expression, most notably choreography and oral performances such as speeches. For instance, if I perform a Klingon death wail in a local park, my performance is not copyrightable. However, if I film the performance, then the film is copyrightable.

Single words and short phrases are generally not protected by copyright, even when the name has been "coined" or newly-created by the mark owner. Logos that include original design elements can be protected under copyright or under trademark. Otherwise, words, phrases and titles may be protected only by trademark, however.


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Question: Do plot synopses and reproductions of photographs infringe on copyrights?

Answer: A plot synopsis may or may not infringe on a copyright, depending on whether the court finds that the use of original material is fair use. Photographs are protected by the copyright holder's rights to both reproduce and display his work, and this right may be violated by posting those photographs on the Internet.


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Question: What is copyright infringement? Are there any defenses?

Answer: Infringement occurs whenever someone who is not the copyright holder (or a licensee of the copyright holder) exercises one of the exclusive rights listed above.

The most common defense to an infringement claim is "fair use," a doctrine that allows people to use copyrighted material without permission in certain situations, such as quotations in a book review. To evaluate fair use of copyrighted material, the courts consider four factors:


  1. the purpose and character of the use
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of copying, and
  4. the market effect.

(17 U.S.C. 107)

The most significant factor in this analysis is the fourth, effect on the market. If a copier's use supplants demand for the original work, then it will be very difficult for him or her to claim fair use. On the other hand, if the use does not compete with the original, for example because it is a parody, criticism, or news report, it is more likely to be permitted as "fair use."

Trademarks are generally subject to fair use in two situations: First, advertisers and other speakers are allowed to use a competitor's trademark when referring to that competitor's product ("nominative use"). Second, the law protects "fair comment," for instance, in parody.


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